Kenny Munro
Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith was celebrated as Young Musician of the Year back in the late 1980s.

A birthday concert, (on Tuesday 26th April 1988), was also televised which featured him at the Queens Hall, Edinburgh with his quartet, and special guest star and jazz legend Gary Burton playing vibraphone.

I attended this concert with my parents; an experience which turned out to be a bench-mark performance for the young Berkley trained Scot from Westerhailes.

As a sculptor with strong musical interests I undertook a solo exhibition at the Netherbow Art Centre Edinburgh in 1988, (now the Scottish Storytelling Centre).
Although my output was diverse, showing 2D & 3D work, I was in a sense re-launching my career as a visual artist.
Bronze portraits of my Father and Uncle plus concrete heads of Robbie Coltrane and John Byrne were well received and inspired a series of portrait commissions.

1989 and ‘Saxophonia’ , the Bronze portrait of Tommy Smith.

In early 1989  my confidence was growing and sought advice from Stewart Conn regarding the potential to contact Tommy Smith and to propose a bronze portrait for the Royal Scottish Academy show in the middle of the year.

I can’t remember if I wrote first or just phoned Tommy.

However his response was positive and started the project by visiting him at Eskbank and taking a series of photographs.(Examples on website). Sketching sessions followed and a strong friendship which resulted in a strong mutual respect and a series of artworks inspired by our friendship.
The main bronze portrait evolved as a fusion of head and saxophone. The enclosed photos show the clay-head in progress with Tommy at my Crossroads studio in the summer of 1989.
My initial target for displaying the work was the RSA and could only show them a plaster cast in advance of the exhibition, as the work was at the new Powderhall Bronze foundry being cast.
It was therefore a major blow to have the work rejected. I was stunned.

My next exhibition venue was the Brunton Hall, Musselburgh. Both my family home town and the cultural centre for East Lothian Council. The completed bronze of Tommy Smith, (Saxophonia) was shown for the first time there, September 1989, with a range of my portraits, drawings and paintings. Tommy attended the private view and this reinforced a special friendship over the following years.

Tommy bought a ceramic printed mural panel from that exhibition and further commissions followed.
Despite the ongoing stratospheric rise of Tommy’s career and international touring schedule he always found time to write or visit and take part in musical parties at Crossroads.  My own work was starting to explore interactive light and music installations and Tommy gave me the chance to collaborate with him. Initially at the Queens Hall with ‘lightworks’ on stage which blinked and flashed in response to the jazz performance.

Magnus Festival 1991

The most involved collaboration was directly commissioned by the Magnus Festival, Orkney in 1991. His previously innovative album ‘Peeping Tom’ was followed by the accomplished mellow disc celebrating many of the jazz classic numbers in the album ‘Standards’. This was profiled at Mag-Fest 1991.

My role was to conceive a project to involve both secondary schools in Orkney and to work with the students to create a striking contemporary theatre set installations for Tommy’s performances at the Pheonix Theatre, Kirkwall; using mainly reflective, copper and aluminium foil. Photos of the ‘set at the Pheonix’ is featured on this site.

The work sessions at schools and consultation with Tommy was playful and creative.

One ‘rest-day’ visit to the standing stones, the Ring of Brodgar’ with Tommy and Alfons Bytautas is worth mentioning. The fine weather inspired Tom to get the Say out for a ‘blow’ by the stones. My camera was always at the ready and captured a hilarious scene. As Tom fired a blistering solo across the green meadows and to the lochs beyond a whole herd of cattle responded in unison and ran as close as they could up toward Tommy.(An enclosed photo, entitled ‘Tommy Plays the Coos’ captures the mood).
A video was also taken of the actual performance at the Pheonix and edited by Keith Laird. Sadly my copy has gone missing and the tragic death of Keith means inevitably that the unique video footage has been lost. The strong B&W pics taken at the time by Alistair Peebles reinforce and document the collaboration.

I do still keep in touch with Tommy but the few years in late 1980’s and early ‘90s deserves to be documented as a special time when artists of different ages and professions come together to inspire one another.

The collection of material gives a sense of the interaction between us at that time.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery:

One of the early drawings  of Tommy Smith, circa 1989, is held in their collection in Queen Street Edinburgh. The SNPG were also interested in the Tommy Smith bronze portrait some years ago.

The work is currently on display and can be viewed at the Powderhall Bronze Gallery, Graham Street, Edinburgh.

Kenny Munro………………… December 2006

Correspondance with Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith Letter

Tommy Smith Postcard

International Projects International Projects International Projects Art in Landscape